Blessings of Kids Camp

Processed with VSCOcam with a9 presetI spent last week off the grid, on a mountain, surrounded only by 34 mostly-Austrian kids, a handful of adults and fresh Alpine air. It was our biggest and – from what I’ve heard the others say – most successful Kids Camp (Kinderlager) ever.

Processed with VSCOcam with g2 presetThis was my second time to go, but first without Holly, who stayed behind with Elliott this year. I missed them a lot, but still had a lot of fun and was greatly blessed by my time at Schwarzwaldeckhaus, the 50-something-year-old house owned by the Churches of Christ in Austria and used for everything from camps to retreats during its long and storied history. Anyone who has ever come up here has a story to tell about this house, and I think 34 more stories were added this year.

My specific task this year was working on the Sport/Spiel/Spaß Zeit (Sport, Games and Fun time) with Bart and Bobby. We played everything from capture the flag to water balloon volleyball, but my favorite day was when Bobby used his skills and equipment from his day job as a tree cutter for Vienna to make a ropes course complete with zip line and climbing section. I also helped out with the older kids’ Bible class, specifically interpreting Martin’s lessons into English for a few kids who attended from Slovakia and Czech Republic, so had little to no German. I think this was a first for so many non-German speakers to come, which can be scary for a kid, but they fit right in and are already excited for next year.

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 presetThe rest of my time was spent leading my specific group through kitchen duties, prayer time and other service areas, doing a devotional in German and simply hanging out with, spending time with and encouraging the kids. A lot of them come from troubled backgrounds, and you could see they enjoyed a week of simple fun and peaceful interaction with other kids and adults, both.

In the US, especially in church circles, we’re used to summer camps. If you grew up going to one, you know how impactful it can be. Now imagine how this experience is for someone who doesn’t have a peaceful home, or doesn’t hear about Jesus on a daily basis, or who has simply never been to the mountains. This week was a chance for them to see God’s creation, experience God’s love and learn about his plan. It left everyone (especially the adults) exhausted, but it’s no wonder that everybody keeps coming back every year for more and that we keep adding kids by the year.

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 presetIn fact, the numbers of kids in the group who are actually teenagers are large enough that we plan on providing these older kids with their own camp next year, Youth Camp (Jugendlager). The details about this extra week is all TBD, but we are already very excited for it and we already have had many teens tell us they can’t wait to come.

With the Haskews on furlough and many others in our church also traveling, it’s now pretty quiet around Vienna for the summer. Please pray for us as we hold down the fort and keep things going throughout this quiet season. Also pray that our fall plans will come to fruition with great energy and excitement.Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

The Koois Are Back In Town

IMG_4892Well friends, we made it! We didn’t expect 7 months to go by before we were back in our apartment, but hey, we’re here at last and for that we are extremely thankful.

As most of you probably know, we arrived last Monday afternoon. The week that has passed since then has been nothing short of crazy, and at times, very difficult. The plane ride from Dallas to London was unfortunately terrible due to Elliott’s absolute refusal to go to sleep. He cried and cried and cried until the last hour and a half of the trip – of course. Luckily no one complained, but I did see a passenger put in earplugs every time Elliott let out a yell. Elliott was a dream on the plane ride from London to Vienna, though. Must’ve been that “we’re almost home” feeling. But Will and I are done with plane rides for at least 10 years. Maybe 20.

6 of our 7 bags made it home with us. Number 7 is still out there somewhere, filled with who knows what because we can’t remember what all we packed in that specific trunk. We’re hoping it returns sometime soon.

The only time either of us smiled.

The only time either of us smiled on the plane.

Culture shock, or reverse culture shock, or even perhaps reverse-reverse culture shock set in almost immediately, and that’s been the most difficult part of our time here so far. I think we both assumed we’d be able to do exactly what we did the last time we returned to Vienna after a lengthy stay in the U.S. – happily hit the ground running. But this time we mostly just hit the ground and have had a hard time getting back up. 7 months is a long time to be away from where you call home, especially if it’s in your host country. On top of that, we had been waiting for our big return to Vienna for so long that once we arrived, it didn’t feel like reality. It felt bizarre and weird and uncomfortable, and to have those feelings upon walking into our home was upsetting. Our apartment felt familiar and foreign at the same time. And Elliott was there – a strange addition to the place that has always belonged to only Will and me. Add a huge dose of jet lag, lack of sun, and Will’s, at the time, worsening cold to the mix and we had ourselves the perfect recipe for a culture shock meltdown.

What happens after an 8 hour, sleepless flight.

What happens after an 8 hour, sleepless flight.

We’re okay, though. We initiated help from the Haskews when we realized we needed help getting adjusted, and they’re the reason we’re doing so much better today. We’ve slept, Will is nearly completely recovered, and every day it feels more normal to be back here. Even our apartment is beginning to feel normal with Elliott and his million items about the place. The poor guy is still jet lagged so nights have been quite an ordeal, but he’s enjoying himself and loves walks in the stroller. The three of us are trying to take it slow and get reacquainted with the city we love so much.

We went to church for the first time Sunday which did our hearts good. It was wonderful to see our church family again and hug everyone’s necks. The singing was particularly beautiful and relaxing to hear. Elliott was welcomed right away and even had a collection of special prayers prayed over him by various people. It’s good to be back.

Poor fella conked out in the Vienna airport while we waited for our luggage.

Poor fella conked out in the Vienna airport while we waited for our luggage.

Now, as for Tobias. During our stay in the U.S., Tobias stayed with a family we know from church. Some of you may have even seen his pictures with them pop up on Facebook from time to time. They fell in love with Tobias right away (naturally), and have provided him with the utmost care, and it is because of this that we have decided to let this special family keep Tobias. They call him “King Toby” as he apparently eats like one and runs the household. His best friend is their precious 12 year old daughter who sleeps with him every night, refers to him as “sweetheart” and “the best kitty ever”, and teams up with him for snuggles during homework. He’s got an amazing, relaxed environment with them which is something we can’t currently provide and wouldn’t be able to do until we’re finally settled which could be months from now since we’re looking to move. He’s perfectly happy where he is and he makes our friends and their daughter happy, and that makes us happy. We’ll babysit Tobias when they need us to and we still get to see him on the Sundays we have house church at their place. We saw him yesterday and he looks great! He didn’t meet Elliott because Elliott was meeting everyone else, but hopefully they’ll see each other next Sunday.

We’re taking it easy this week and plan to stay at home for most of it. Our place is a suitcase disaster… I don’t even know where half of Elliott’s clothes are. Or mine for that matter. So we’ll mostly be unpacking and doing “normal” things, like grocery shopping, catching up on emails, drinking coffee, those sort of things. I’m picking up my permit on Friday so that’s my big event of the week. Will will begin work next Monday.

Thank you all for your prayers as we make this transition and start this new and exciting journey.

Legal At Last

We just wanted to update everyone with the knowledge that at long last, we are legally able to live and work in Austria. I travelled last week to Vienna on a whirlwind trip where I picked up my work permit, registered with Austrian social security, and signed my employment contract all in the span of a few short days. But with that done, I was able to fly back to OKC with the first peace of mind in this area we’ve really felt since first coming to Vienna almost 30 months ago. We are so thankful to God for having this process go relatively smoothly, despite the long wait. This is just more affirmation for us that he wants us in Austria.

There are still a few more steps. We’ve applied for Elliott’s passport and are currently waiting on it. When we go back to Vienna in a few months, Holly will have to pick up her permit (a simple process) and we will have to apply for one for Elliott (a little more complicated but should be straightforward seeing as we both have permits now). And then – we’re home free!

With that out of the way – praise God – our main focus now is fundraising. We are doing well but have a little ways to go. We would appreciate prayers and, if you are someone or know someone (or a church) who might be interested in partnering with us in our work, please contact me. Please direct anyone interested to our fundraising website at www.viennateam.org.

Many thanks, and pray for us as we get ready to move back, this time for good and with a newborn baby in tow.

Alles Gute Zum Geburtstag, Hermine!

Today is sweet Hermine’s 80th birthday! Will and I sat with her at the office this morning for our usual conversation/bible study over a cup of coffee and plate of peanut butter crackers, (Have we told you she absolutely loves peanut butter?) then we met up with the Haskews at a nearby restaurant (Hermine’s favorite) for her birthday lunch. We think she had a pretty good time, especially since she got a birthday ice cream out of it.

This morning in her prayer time with us, she thanked God for giving her so much time on this earth. We’re thankful too! Join us in prayer today as we thank God for this sweet lady and her big heart. Happy Birthday, Hermine!

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Having Ourselves A Merry Little Christmas In Vienna, Finally.

ImageTo say we’re thrilled to have our own Christmas tree and ring in the New Year from Vienna is an understatement. We are ecstatic. Sitting in our living room is a small little Christmas tree whom we’ve lovingly named Francis, for unknown reasons. Francis is decorated in lights as well as red and silver ornaments. A few Christmas presents sit beneath him on a substitute blanket we’re using until we find a Christmas tree rug. We’ve collected some Christmas decorations here and there to make our place feel a little more celebratory. Christmas music has been playing nonstop since Thanksgiving, of course. We have visited many, many of Vienna’s famed Christmas markets and collected an embarrassing amount of coffee mugs from them. We’ve also snacked on too many greasy but oh-so-delicious foods from these markets, but I promise we also made good use of our time, were good sons and daughters, and bought gifts for our families (which we accomplished before Thanksgiving, might I add!) Now all we need is a Christmas Eve snowfall, and we’re good to go. 

We’ve been asked several times by loving people if we’ll be okay this year, being that this is our first Christmas not only without family but also away from the country in which we’ve always celebrated this festive time of the year. While it does feel a little strange to not watch “Elf” for the first time without my best friends, or not have “Christmas Pajama Party” on our calendar, we’re feeling, as I said, ecstatic to be here, as well as stable and not homesick. Not yet anyway. Plus, we’re not “alone” this year for Christmas in any sense. There are parties coming up, meals to be shared, and most exciting of all – we’re celebrating two Christmases. I didn’t know this until a few months ago, but Austrians mainly celebrate Christmas on the 24th, not the 25th (like a lot of continental Europe). You all know our good friend Thomas, as he’s pretty famous in this blog – he and his sweet family have invited us to spend their Christmas with them. We can’t wait! We’re excited to not only add an additional Christmas to our agenda, but more importantly, we’re excited to still be spending time with family. They may not be related to us, but we love them immensely and know that we’ll feel like we’re family as we celebrate together. 

ImageTomorrow is our English Kids Club Christmas Party, which concludes EKC for the year of 2013. We survived the year! Though we weren’t fully present for it (all of January, half of February), we had an amazing year with our past and present kids, and we’re already looking forward to what 2014 will bring beginning a couple weeks into January. Continue to pray over our sweet EKC kids. Also be praying for the Oklahoma Christian University students who left us last week to go back to the U.S. It was difficult as always to say goodbye to another group, but from the pictures we’ve seen of their return, they’re doing pretty okay with being back with their families and friends. Our Adult English Class has also wrapped up for the year and is scheduled to begin at the same as EKC next year. We’ve discovered that by the time December hits, most people around here are booked up through the month, so we thought it best to give everyone a break from their “studies”, and enjoy the season. It’ll be a good refresher for us, too.

In case you find yourself with some extra time to stay on your computer, be sure and check out our newly designed (by Will!) Kreuzung website. (Use your Chrome translator or something similar to read the text.) Though Will designed the site, he was graciously helped by several friends at church with translations, edits, and suggestions – so a huge thank you to those people! You can view the site here: www.kreuzung-wien.at. Also, Tamika Rybinski and I recently launched a new blogging website called “Whispers in the Calm”. Its purpose is to serve as a safe and encouraging place for women in ministry and missions. We’ve been live for a little over a month and have already received several posts from women who have felt called to share their stories with others around the world. In honor of Christmas, we’re currently running a series we’re calling “25 Days of Jesus”, but once the New Year hits, we’ll be back to writing on ministry and missions-related topics. You can find us here: www.inthecalm.org.

Thanks for stopping by and may you all have a blessed week!

 

Thinking of You

Family, friends, supporters in Oklahoma:

Our continuous prayers are with you. We’ve been keeping up with all that has happened since last night and will continue to do so. Know that we love you and are here for you, and are praying that the weather calms and ceases. Know that not only people from Austria, but people in countries all over the world are lifting you up and covering you in prayer. A favorite verse that keeps coming to mind is one that we have memorized in both English and German. It is one we have said to ourselves in the midst of hardship, and as short as it may be, I hope that its words bring you relief, hope, comfort, strength, and peace. It comes from Job (Hiob) 38:18, when God answers Job from “out of the storm”:

“Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the Earth?” (“Hast du den Überblick über die ganze Weite der Erde?”)

The expanses of the Earth are unimaginable, and the size of the Lord who created this Earth is indescribable. Just as God answered Job out of the storm, so will He answer Oklahoma out of this one. Love you all.

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Pray For Our Permit

view from our German teacher's apartment

View from our German teacher’s apartment

This is an important week, because we could possibly receive our residency permit. Our lawyer told us when we applied that he wouldn’t be surprised if we received it within 3 weeks, and the 3 week mark is this Thursday. We haven’t heard anything yet, but we’re eagerly awaiting word.

Legally, the permit can take up to 6 months to be issued, but we’re obviously hoping that’s not the case. Our lawyer said most permits of this type are issued within about 3 weeks, and they’ve had even more complicated cases than ours where the permit was issued within that time. So, we are hopeful, and are trusting that God can make this happen.

We are asking all of our supporters and followers to pray for us at least once this week, and perhaps more if you feel like it. Pray that we hear from the authorities soon, that we are accepted, and that we receive the permit quickly so we don’t have to leave the EU again in May once our tourist visa is finished. We appreciate any and all thoughts and prayers, and we’ll let everyone know once we’ve heard from them!